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UNDERSTANDING ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE

The truth is there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). In fact, even the early stages of the disease are difficult to diagnose. A definitive diagnosis is usually made once cognitive impairment compromises daily living activities. The symptoms will progress from mild cognitive problems, such as memory loss and attentiveness to difficulties with language characterised by a shrinking vocabulary and decreased word fluency. Progressive deterioration eventually hinders independence eliminating any possibility of independent living, especially in the late stages of the disease.

The vast majority of cases of Alzheimer's disease are sporadic, meaning that they are not genetically inherited although some genes may act as risk factors. On the other hand, around 0.1% of cases are familia that usually has an onset before age 65. This form of the disease is known as Early Onset Familial Alzheimer's Disease. Researchers say they've made progress toward finding out more about the disease. They believe Alzheimer's begins to attack the brain years before the symptoms appear, so determining what causes the disease and who is susceptible to it are critical to researchers in the field. “If scientists can understand how to prevent the toxic build-up, it could lead to more specific treatments with fewer side-effects,” according to Dr. Georges Levesque, chair of the biomedical review panel at the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

A GRAM OF PREVENTION

Currently there are approximately 300,000 known cases of the disease in Canada. 5.4 million – or one in eight older Americans – have AD and the numbers are climbing dramatically. Given our aging population – like it or not we are all aging – then the prudent response to this devastating disease comes down to one thing – prevention. Here are suggestions for a more healthful lifestyle to avoid this terrible disease:

SLOW DOWN THE AGING PROCESS

Our bodies accumulate useless debris – cleverly acronymed AGE for advanced glycation end products – that results in inflammation and tissue decay. This debris cannot be burned as energy or eliminated so it accumulates as plaque in arteries, stiffness in joints and loss of functional brain cells when it takes a healthy cell’s place. This debris enters the body from our food but is also a by-product of high blood sugar. The connection is – the more high carbohydrate foods we eat the more debris our bodies create. And all this can happen without having Diabetes. "Some less obvious but very interesting findings recently suggest that what we traditionally viewed as risk factors for heart disease also happen to be risk factors for Alzheimer's," said Dr. Judes Poirier, director of the McGill Centre for Studies in Aging.

WE ARE WHAT WE EAT

The components of a Mediterranean type diet, which include meat and fish, fruit and vegetables, olive oil and red wine, may all individually or together reduce the risk and course of Alzheimer's disease. There is one exception to this type of diet that requires careful attention and that is carbohydrates – in particular grains and wheat. Carbohydrates spike blood sugar quickly and easily with wheat being the worst offender of all. It is these spikes in blood sugar that accelerate the formation of AGEs and leave us vulnerable to so many diseases including AD. The good news is there is limited evidence that light to moderate use of alcohol, particularly red wine is associated with a lower risk of AD.

PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

Physical activity is also associated with a reduced risk of AD. Mounting evidence suggests that physical activity may have benefits beyond a healthy heart and body weight. Through the past several years, population studies have suggested that exercise that raises your heart rate for at least 30 minutes several times a week can lower your risk of Alzheimer's. Physical activity appears to inhibit Alzheimer's-like brain changes in mice, slowing the development of a key feature of the disease.

CHALLENGE THE BRAIN

People who engage in intellectual activities such as reading, playing board games, completing crossword puzzles, playing musical instruments or regular social interaction show a reduced risk for Alzheimer's disease. This is compatible with the cognitive reserve theory, which states that some life experiences result in more efficient neural functioning providing the individual a cognitive reserve. Being a lifelong learner may delay the onset of AD.

REDUCE ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION

Some studies have shown an increased risk of developing AD with environmental factors such as the intake of metals, particularly aluminum or exposure to solvents. The quality of some of these studies has been criticised and other studies have concluded that there is no relationship between these environmental factors and the development of AD. Some studies suggest that extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields may increase the risk for Alzheimer's disease, reviewers found that further epidemiological and laboratory investigations of this hypothesis are needed. Smoking is a significant AD risk factor and a risk for good health in general.

REDUCE INFLAMMATION

Inflammation is one of the first responses of the immune system to infection or irritation. Inflammation is stimulated by chemical factors released by injured cells and serves to establish a physical barrier against the spread of irritation, and to promote healing of any damaged tissue following the clearance of pathogens. Surprisingly long-term usage of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs) is associated with a reduced likelihood of developing AD. Human postmortem studies, in animal models, or in vitro investigations also support the notion that NSAIDs can reduce inflammation related to amyloid plaques. However, this involves taking drugs for life. More natural ways such as curcumin from the curry spice turmeric has shown some effectiveness in preventing brain damage in mouse models due to its anti-inflammatory properties. There is inconsistent and unconvincing evidence that ginkgo biloba has any positive effect on AD. Interestingly, a 21-year study found that coffee drinkers of 3–5 cups per day at midlife had a 65% reduction in the risk of dementia in late-life.